Obama Faces Up to the Spy Scandal

Surrounded by the spy scandal and caught up in international crises without clear options for the United States, Barack Obama tries to fight the feeling of indecision and paralysis clouding his presidency with a turn toward speeches concerning serious and pressing American problems. Nothing has worked so far. At the end of his brief summer vacation this week, Obama’s popularity rate plummeted, especially among young people, those most sensitive to the excesses known about television surveillance programs and the Internet. The president’s administration is only approved of today by 45 percent of citizens, just seven months after him taking office.

The White House makes an effort to divert attention to its own political agenda — to regain the initiative. Yesterday, at his first stop in Buffalo, Obama presented a plan to reduce the cost of universities and increase access to aid for minorities and students with fewer resources. High college tuition fees and student debt is one of the biggest complaints in this country, exactly among the group in which Obama’s popularity has fallen the most. But this initiative, like many others in recent months, runs the risk of failing before Congress — which puts the skids under everything that comes from the White House — and before public, absent-minded opinion with other matters and skepticism of the president.

Yesterday, The New York Times paid special attention to the proposal concerning universities, but other means continued to be dependent on the changes of the National Security Agency (NSA), whose activities have a daily drip of information that undermines the credibility of the administration and obscures any other issues. All of Obama’s intentions — various press conferences and statements — to give explanations, to offer assurance about the control that the NSA exercises or to promise changes for better clarity have fallen into the void.

The spy scandal that has left Obama’s activity torpedoing since his supposedly historic speech before the Brandenburg Gate has forced him to store away such important initiatives as the reduction of nuclear weapons, which should have been brought up at the summit with Vladimir Putin but was suspended after Putin granted asylum to Edward Snowden in Moscow.

Nor does Obama find comfort in foreign policy. Currently, the two big crises, Egypt and Syria, have taken a course that leaves the American government without clear options. A military intervention in Syria, a possible consequence of the regime’s use of chemical weapons, could perhaps cause an even bigger disaster than the one it hoped to avoid. The severe punishment to the Egyptian soldiers wouldn’t necessarily mean a guarantee of better stability or better democracy in that country.

And this not very optimistic outlook can complicate things even more for Obama when Congress resumes session next week. The first theme in the legislative agenda is immigration reform, for which the Republicans have plans that will most likely ruin any chance of a quick passing of the bill to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants. If this occurs, the administration’s big gamble in national politics — perhaps the largest in Obama’s second term — could collapse.

Even three years ahead seems long enough for the president to find oxygen at some point to reverse this situation. However, with the political calendar in hand, this period isn’t too long. Within 14 months of the midterm election, congressmen will start to vote very soon based on their own interests, not those of Obama or their party. The media covered the movements of Hillary Clinton, who has started to talk of politics, with great interest. And even Vice President Joe Biden has left to circulate his intentions to be a candidate in 2016. In these circumstances, the risk of Obama becoming a “lame duck” ahead of schedule is evident.

A first chance to recover the lost shine will come next Wednesday, when Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the speech delivered 50 years before in the same place by Martin Luther King — his beautiful “I Have a Dream” speech. But that chance is also a great challenge for a president whose victory resulted in a dream of similar dimension to the famous pastor of Atlanta.

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